Harvey, Irma, Maria. Mexico City, Houston, Jacksonville, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Keys, and other islands many of us had never heard of before. Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina. States where we have family, friends, loved ones.
The devastation visited on friends we know and people we’ve only seen on television is of a magnitude that we do not know how to process it. Psychologists say our brains are wired so that if you tell the story of a single person’s tragedy, it will have a greater emotional impact than saying that a thousand people died in a famine. The point being, it takes work to be mindful of the thousands – if not millions – of individual stories that make up the natural disasters of the last weeks.
One of the compelling gospel stories I reflect on when I am tempted to group individual human beings into a statistic – the result being that the preciousness of each is somehow lost – is Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples to help carry forth his work to people in need.
Matthew says: “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36).”
What I love about this verse is that when Jesus saw the masses, he didn’t see a group, but people worthy of his compassion and care. Therefore, in response to their multitudinous needs, he empowered his disciples to be his hands and feet, the first call of the nascent Church to be Christ’s body at work in the world.
It was said of St. Francis of Assisi that he couldn’t see the forest for love of the trees. The inestimable value of the particular was never lost by the human tendency to categorize. So too, it could be said of Jesus, that he never could see the crowds for love of the people who compromise them – the forest for the trees.
There is a discipline for us in these times, not only with regard to how we comprehend and react to these natural disasters, but also to the crushing number of complex issues that surround and easily overwhelm us. As Jesus followers, we must not turn people into statistics, groups, story lines, or, God forbid, “issues.” People must always be regarded as singularly precious, because each is to God.
The manner in which this turns our compassion into action will be varied amongst us, but the surest path to neglect, dismissiveness or despair is to forget the human beings behind these tragedies. Perhaps the first way that God will commence the healing this world needs, is by giving those of us who follow his son, the vision of his son. “Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth, as it is to heaven” is not only a prayer, but a call to action by those of us intent on having the eyesight of Jesus.
-The Reverend Eric Long
Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA